Every year there’s talk of a promotion/relegation play-off in the Six Nations. And rightly so. Italy have long been the odd one out, picking up 14 wooden spoons and rarely managing to finish above 5th. And Georgia have been dominant in the tier 2 competition. But replacing one with the other isn’t the way forward. If there was to simply be a promotion/relegation play-off added it would just end up with Italy and Georgia swapping places each year. We would end up with a top 5, then a mini tier of Italy and Georgia, and then the rest. The way forward is expansion. Currently there are 5 game rounds held over 7 weeks. If the Six Nations was to be expanded to 8 Nations, there could be 7 rounds in 7 games. Instead of just replacing one team with another each season, why not add two spots. Expanding to 8 Nations would mean adding the top 2 teams in the Rugby Europe Championship to the Six Nations. They could then have the 8th place team be relegated with 7th in a play-off. Equally, 1st place in the Rugby Championship goes up automatically with 2nd in a play-off. The play-off should be a two-legged tie that takes place in the Summer internationals or November series. Realistically there would be a chance to rotate players against the newly promoted sides, addressing the player welfare issue. And it would help bridge the gap between the tiers. To make rugby a truly global game, competitions need to be expanded and teams need to play more games. Here’s what European rugby with look like under this format: (Teams in BOLD are the current highest placed teams in their division and would therefore be promoted) 8 Nations England, France, Georgia, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Scotland, Wales Rugby Europe Championship Belgium, Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland Rugby Europe Trophy Czech Republic, Croatia, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Conference 1 North Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Luxembourg, Sweden South Bulgaria, Cyprus, Israel, Malta, Slovenia, Conference 2 North Austria, Finland, Moldova, Norway South Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Turkey Rugby Europe Development Belarus, Estonia, Montenegro, Slovakia Replacing Italy with Georgia doesn’t solve rugby’s tier problem. Just like how replacing Australia or Argentina with Fiji or Japan in the Rugby Championship wouldn’t do the job. Rugby needs to be more open, and that won’t happen by making the Six Nations the Six and a half Nations with the bottom side changing each year. If the Six Nations was expanded to 8 teams, it would mean Georgia and Italy both get a place at the top table, as do a new team, and the next best teams in Rugby Europe would have a route inward too. Remember, Italy joined the Six Nations (then the 5 Nations) in the first place because they were the next best team. Casting them out makes the rugby world smaller. To make rugby global, we should look to expand, not contract.
Ciarán Duffy is the Producer and Presenter of Post to Post Sport (@PostToPostSport), a sports podcast that covers rugby, football, wrestling, and Irish Sport News. You can get their podcasts on MixCloud our Spotify (Search PostToPostSport) and PlayerFM (Post to Post Sport).